With his hands on his hips, senior midfielder Ernest Bawa watched in silence as the Clemson men's soccer team celebrated its ACC Championship victory. It was a sight of despair, and fatigue, that was mirrored by many of his fellow Tar Heels on the pitch.
In North Carolina’s first ACC championship game since 2018, the Tar Heels fell 1-1 (5-3) in penalty kicks. The contest displayed an issue that has plagued UNC all year: a lack of energy. Game after game this season, head coach Carlos Somoano has pointed to fatigue as a problem for the team. On Sunday, after playing four games in two weeks in the ACC Tournament, it finally caught up with them on the biggest stage as the Tar Heels mustered just two shots on goal across regulation and two overtime periods.
“We were just laboring the whole game long,” Somoano said.
UNC took the lead in the 49th minute after graduate midfielder Quenzi Huerman found the ball in the box off a pass from junior midfielder Andrew Czech. The goal was his tenth of the year, making him UNC's first double-digit goal scorer since 2017.
After the ball found the back of the net, though, Huerman appeared tired on the pitch. The Seton Hall transfer, who Somoano labeled as the vocal leader of the offense, was unable to produce another shot all game. With Huerman and others struggling to run up and down the field, the UNC offense sputtered.
In the 83rd minute, the team’s lack of energy finally came back to bite them. Attempting to secure a pass from sophomore midfielder Sam Williams, Huerman was late to the ball and earned a yellow card for the ensuing tackle.